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can every preacher preach every passage? – sarah harris

woman-issue-of-blood

I am currently writing an article on the bleeding women story from Luke’s Gospel and it has got me thinking about whether a man can really preach this passage and do the story justice.

In the last two years I have lived the story of the bleeding woman – woman can probably imagine what that would be like – and I now have an immense empathy and intrigue in the women who dared to reach out to Jesus and seek help. For me, her story embodies a woman who reached across societal taboos and sought out help; but oh, how hard it must have been to have taken those steps toward Jesus.

The longer I have sat with that passage the more I have come to believe a man preaching the story cannot do the text justice. The story is more than a Christological point; it is about a woman who dared to believe the world could be different; it is about the journey of sickness where hope can be a distant friend; and, it is a very personal story which many women can identify with.

Can a man really get inside this story?

Can a man really preach this intensely personal story?

 A few things come to mind. First, women have fewer stories in the biblical text which are deeply connected to womanhood, not because the women were absent in society, but their lives were not often documented. So, I wonder why a man would even try to preach this passage. I know Jairus (a male) is involved in the surrounding story, but the raising of his daughter really serves as a narrative foil which points to the woman’s desperate condition; her twelve years of bleeding has left her as one who has little life left like the young girl. Remember, in ancient chiasm, it is what lies at the centre which is the most important!

Second, the woman is an extraordinary role model and the church need to hear of more women who we can be inspired by. In Luke’s account Jesus is largely a passive observer in the story; God is the prime mover and the divine is “everywhere present and no where mentioned;” the women in the active agent and Jesus simply (and eventually) calls her out of her hiddenness. What a remarkable women to cross societal taboos around menstrual blood – something the Jewish law valued but society shunned – and dare to hope once more that she might be healed. What a profoundly strong women; what a role model for other wo(men).

Finally, I wonder if the Scriptures invite us to be generous in our peaching schedules and invite other voices in to our public conversations. Maybe we should ask, am I the best person to speak to this passage? Is there someone else who needs to grow and find a voice, and who may not be a career preacher, but is already embodying the essence of the passage? I know we need solid and stable preaching in our churches, but we also need times when someone simply preaches the “big idea” from an authentically lived experience. Maybe, just maybe, they can connect with the congregation out of their vulnerability more effectively than our diligently worked sermon. I think some stories need to be told from the inside out; for me anyway, this is one of them.

 What do you think?

3 Comments

  1. Dale says:

    Thanks for this Sarah. I resonate entirely at all points. I’d come down on the ‘yes’ side, though, and would want to say that if God was pleased to preserve and tell and ‘do justice’ to her story through a male Evangelist, then it seems that God could be pleased to ‘do justice’ to her story through a male preacher. But of course, one can imagine Luke getting the story from a female, and I’ve no problem agreeing it would have an extra ‘oomph’ coming from a female heart, life, experience and voice. I’m sure you’d agree, just as we wouldn’t want women to be asked to preach ‘because the normally-preferred gender wasn’t best for this passage’, so also we wouldn’t want a male preacher to doubt the ability of the Spirit to enable him. Preaching, after all, seems to necessarily involve crossing (or at least appreciating) great gulfs, whether historical, cultural, geographical or gender. But again, I think it’s a very intriguing post.

  2. NANCY BARNARD STARR says:

    Sarah, thank you for this entry. Preaching this passage takes a poet, regardless of gender. Who is the best person to give a sermon on this passage? I like the thought of clusters of preachers, who set dates they will preach, thumbing through the Lectionary. Yet the mystery of the roster is that once in a while, we do get a reading ‘meant for us’ in light of our understanding and experience, or our ability to wrestle with the text. Choosing another whose ‘lived experience’ may be closer to the text assumes a few things, including whether the other person wishes to reveal her or his story in a sermon, or keep the congregation guessing…. This is a beautiful story of the wholeness of God embodied in Jesus, and a woman who trusts and reaches for the kingdom’s reality, and its possibility of healing. Here Luke’s woman, perceiving this reality so near, is our guide. It is her story we preach.

  3. Brett Jones says:

    Really appreciated the post. Loved Dale’s response for capturing some of my ponderings more elegantly than I could. Rich engagement. The other thought that went through my mind was the “danger” of some texts being seen as women’s only texts with the unintended consequence that women become pigeonholed as preachers on these texts/issues. In fact, I’m quite sure that already happens in some contexts around Mothers’ Day. But the challenge to think through what actual people in your context might bring to the text is a very valid thought. And one that could be extended to a range of texts on issues such as disability, widowhood, orphans, race etc. Maybe the question becomes: what might a particular person in your context bring to the text that you could not given their own stories and defining features?

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